The comments left on posts related to our church’s recent decision to switch affiliation from the Baptist General Convention of Texas to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, as well as a few emails to me personally, have prompted me to make this particular post. Denominational loyalty runs deep among Southern Baptists, down to the associational level. Most church members couldn’t explain the cooperative relationship between churches and denominational entities and conventions, but many of them would speak up at the thought of making a change.
The “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC, in spite of the depth and intensity of the various controversies surrounding it, has produced very little movement among Southern Baptist churches across the denominational spectrum, in spite of what appeared to be close to a 50-50 split among messengers attending the stormy convention meetings during its first 10 years, from 1979 into the late 1980’s. However, when the “moderates” began considering some kind of separation, or at least, development of denominational structures they could control, which would express their particular theological perspective, few churches followed along. Formation of both the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as alternative, moderate-controlled groups attracted few churches. The Alliance numbers about 100 affiliates, represents those churches furthest to the left of center in Baptist life, but includes some ABC-USA congregations as well. It consists of churches which, with few exceptions, have completely severed ties with the SBC. Among the 1,700 or so churches which provide financial assistance through CBF, “partner churches” as they are called, only about 100 have completely severed ties with the SBC, the rest providing a level of support to the Cooperative Program, in most cases, to a greater extent than they do to CBF.
On the other hand, in the two state conventions whose leadership resisted conservative control of the SBC and attempted to assert their independence, a significant number of churches have switched over to newly formed, conservative state convention bodies. In Virginia, over 500 churches left the moderate controlled BGAV to form the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), about a third of the total, and churches continue to switch their affiliation on a regular basis. In Texas, over 2,000 Baptist churches once affiliated with the BGCT have switched, again, over a third of the total. Each one is a story in and of itself. This is ours.
The church’s relationship with the various levels of denominational cooperation has ebbed and flowed throughout its history depending on the direction its leadership has gone. During the first forty years of its history, as the church grew numerically because of the growth of the surrounding neighborhood, most of those who came here were familiar with the Southern Baptist identity, and supported the church’s relationship with all levels related to that. As the first generation of families began to age, the kids moved away, and the congregation declined and aged, that identity became even stronger. The first pastor to serve during a period of numerical decline that began thirty years ago was an SBC loyalist who eventually retired from a position as an editor in the literature publishing division of Lifeway. The second pastor to serve during that period did not have strong denominational leanings, and attempted to build a more independent approach to ministry. Many of those who joined the church, either by baptism or through transfer, during the past seventeen years have come from non-Baptist backgrounds, and there has not been a strong effort to educate them in denominational loyalty.
The issue of state convention affiliation didn’t really touch this church until it became pastorless in June of 2008. As various candidates were interviewed by the search team, a growing realization developed that the church would have to make some kind of a decision regarding the direction it would go or it might find the process of calling a pastor to be somewhat more difficult than anticipated. The result was the appointment of a committee to study the issue from all sides of it, including the background of the 1979 Conservative Resurgence, and make a decision based on a consensus of the members of the church.
The issue that came to the surface at the very beginning, and remained there through the entire process was the relationship of the state convention to the Southern Baptist Convention. Our church has close, personal connections to individuals who are directly involved with the International Mission Board, including a family serving with them in East Asia, and a family training to be appointed to South America. In addition to that, there are relationships to individuals who work directly with the North American Mission Board. Several years ago, when the BGCT began cutting the percentage of Cooperative Program funding it forwarded to SBC causes, this church opted to designate 66% of its CP giving to the SBC, and last year, we increased that to 75%. The fact that the SBTC sees itself as a supporter of, and full partner with the SBC carried a lot of weight with our congregation. The position taken by the BGCT was seen not only as a means of expressing disapproval of the SBC’s choice of leadership, but the partnership that was developed with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the development of “stand alone” ministry and missions programs within the BGCT itself were both seen as being in competition with the SBC for the missions support of Texas Baptists.
The doctrinal and theological differences between the church and the BGCT were noted, and the church does very clearly lean heavily in the direction of the BFM 2000. Reading some of the language from articles in the Baptist Standard, some of the committee members came away with the perception that the BGCT’s leadership is actually hostile to the BFM 2000, from both a denominational-political and doctrinal perspective. This church, and the committee that was selected to make this particular decision, would hold to the principle that scripture is not evaluated or interpreted based on one’s experience, but that experience is to be evaluated and interpreted by scripture. Ultimately, with that perspective, comparing the way the BGCT sees the 1963 BFM and the SBTC sees the 2000 BFM, the church opted for cooperation with the latter, disagreeing with some of the “doctrinal loopholes” that have been used to justify positions out of step with Baptist theology via the 1963 BFM. The committee examined some of those historic disagreements and their interpretation. The decision to uniquely align with the SBTC was a unanimous one as a result.